56: Hockey for Beginners

56: Hockey for Beginners

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Hockey for Beginners

People would say, “Girls don’t play hockey. Girls don’t skate.” I would say, “Watch this.”

~Hailey Wickenheiser, Canadian Women’s National Hockey Team, Five-Time Olympian

Girls didn’t play hockey when I was growing up. Most of us got white figure skates for Christmas and were signed up for figure-skating lessons before we knew what was happening.

In the decade separating my generation from my baby sister’s, everything changed. Suddenly girls played hockey! My sister didn’t happen to be one of them, not in her youth, but her best friend did and went on to score a hockey scholarship. Eventually she played for the illustrious Canadian Women’s Team.

Her friend’s success inspired my sister to give hockey a go. In university she joined a special league — a hockey club for absolute beginners. Some of the women didn’t even know how to skate. In addition to being inexperienced players, the women spanned every age group over eighteen. My sister played alongside grandmothers and university students. Once they were on the ice they were all about the game.

At the start of the season, my mother and I watched one of my sister’s games. The pace was slow, the shots on goal weren’t all that accurate and there was a lot of falling, but those beginners had heart.

They lost big-time. When my sister got off the ice, I could sense her frustration behind the “good sport” mask.

“Did you have fun?” my mother asked — the same question she’d put to me after my childhood soccer games.

“Yeah,” my sister grumbled.

“Well, that’s all that matters,” my mother assured her.

“But we just try so hard. You should see us at practice. We work our butts off! The last thing we want is for people to watch us play and say, ‘See? Girls suck at hockey, and they’re proof.’ We want to be better.”

“You’ll get better,” Mom and I both said.

And they did, by leaps and bounds. When my mother and I drove out to watch a game later in the season, the players who hadn’t known how to skate before weren’t falling anymore, and after learning the fundamentals of the game some had become star players.

The next year, my sister went out for house league with the more experienced players at her university.

On her visit home at Christmas, my sister proposed that we all go pleasure skating. I hadn’t set foot on ice in almost twenty years. My mother hadn’t skated in even longer.

But we went. Mom was not enthusiastic. Even as we drove to one of the few outdoor rinks open on a holiday, she kept saying, “I’m not doing this, girls. I’m not getting out on that ice.”

“But you need more exercise, Mom.” That was my sister’s usual chastisement. “You should be more active, do something every week. Like curling! Or you could join a yoga class… anything.”

My mother changed the subject, and I kept quiet. Most of my physical activity involved the path between my computer and refrigerator. Not the healthiest lifestyle.

The weather was beautiful for December. When we got to the rink Mom struggled to lace up a pair of old hockey skates. When she saw other people on the ice who were a little wobbly, she perked up.

“Maybe I can do this,” she said.

I stepped on the ice first, and quickly discovered it was just like riding a bicycle. That feeling of early childhood freedom came zooming back, and I immediately remembered how much I loved skating.

As they stepped onto the rink, my sister held Mom’s hand as she took her first few steps onto the ice. As soon as she was close enough, she grabbed my hand. My sister and I held her steady — like we were the parents and she was the child.

“Can you pull me along?” Mom asked.

Laughing, my sister and I did as she requested and skated across the outdoor rink. The ice was dinted and rough, badly in need of a date with the Zamboni. A respectable coat of snow had built up on top as well.

My mother was finally ready to go it alone and my sister and I let go of her hands. Off she went, stumbling a bit here and there. At times I was sure she would fall, but she always managed to recover before losing her balance completely.

We skated alone for a while, my sister, my mother and I, always half watching for each other, but taking space to enjoy the winter air. The round-and-round was mesmerizing, and before we knew it an hour had gone by.

On the way home, we stopped at Tim Horton’s for hot chocolate. As we waited in line, my mother asked my sister about that beginners’ hockey league for women.

“Why?” my sister asked. “Are you thinking of joining?”

My mother half-smiled, half-shrugged, half-nodded. “I’m thinking about it.”

I was thinking about it too!

~Tanya Janke

Toronto, Ontario

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